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Finding the right camcorder

Sony Handycam® HDR-PJ380

Today's HD camcorders pack a lot of features into a compact size

When it comes to deciding what kind of camcorder you want, all the different types can be confusing. But one simple way to narrow down the list is to figure out what you want to shoot with the cam, and what you want to do with your footage when you're done.

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Shooting on the go

Let's start with the rough and tumble members of this group, the Extreme Sports camcorders. These cams are great for people who post videos on YouTube™ or other websites, and their small form factor and their ability to be securely mounted in a variety of situations makes them perfect for dynamic point-of-view shooting.

Many are waterproof and extra rugged, so they're great for young adventurers who want to document a life lived at high-throttle. The cams don't have a lot of zoom and usually no manual controls. They're designed to take in the world around you at a wide-angle setting. However, the lenses on the cams are very basic and the sensors are small, so the video may not look terrific blown up on a large HDTV.

Capturing memories that'll last


Get in close with plenty of zoom
You can't always get a front row seat, so you need a cam with some reach to get close-ups of your child's concert or soccer game. The important numbers to look at are listed as optical zoom. Some cams advertise high digital zoom numbers, but you may be disappointed with the results because the picture can get blocky and pixelated. So just look at a high number for optical zoom to get close enough to capture small details without losing picture quality.

Bear in mind that zooming in reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor, so if you're zooming indoors look for a camera with good low-light sensitivity and/or a lens with a large aperture.

Control Camcorders with high optical zoom get you close to the action.

Optical Image Stabilization
If you think you'll be doing a lot of close-ups, then also look for a camcorder with optical image stabilization. Optical image stabilization uses mechanical elements in the lens to help compensate for hand shake. So even if you can't mount your camcorder on a tripod, this feature will help keep your video steady as you zoom in.

Digital image stabilization uses software and the image processor to cut down on camera shake. It's not as effective as optical image stabilization, and can sometimes make your picture look grainy.

Store your memories

Camcorders with built-in memory use either a hard drive or flash memory. These cams also include a memory card slot, usually for SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards, to let you expand your cam's capacity. Because high-definition footage requires a lot of storage space, you'll want to have plenty of memory available when you start shooting.

Some camcorders have no internal storage, and so you'll need memory cards. The cards come in all sizes these days. The higher the capacity (measured in gigabytes), the more hours of footage you can store on each card.

Memory cards come in speed classes too — the class specifies how quickly the card can transfer data. Some camcorders record high data-rate HD video and will need faster speed class cards — be sure to read the hands-on research tab for guidance.

Get in touch with your LCD
Quite a few camcorders now offer a touchscreen LCD. The touchpanel offers a few advantages. You can quickly scroll through the menu to select options, and even do a little editing without pushing any buttons. With many of them, you can also select your subject on the screen to assign them preference in a shot, or to focus on them. And in others you can use the touchscreen to take a still photo of your subject.

Geo-tagging — the traveler's best friend
One of the newest camcorder features worth checking out is built-in geo-tagging. Camcorders with this feature use a built-in GPS to tag your videos with not only the date and local time of your recording, but also the location of where you shot the video. So when you get home from your month-long trek around Europe, you won't have to spend multiple hours sorting through your videos just to find one two-minute clip that you took at the Eiffel Tower.

Pro-style recording


If you're serious about shooting video and want the very highest quality, you can take a look at a top-of-the-line or pro-style camcorder. These will have better video quality, more manual controls like manual focus, and often the ability to connect external microphones. These cams are great for budding filmmakers, or videographers who want the very best.

When you're looking at these cams, look for high-quality sensors. A three-chip camera will record red, blue, and green separately to deliver a sharp, color accurate picture. They also give you an excellent picture even when you're shooting in low-light settings.

No matter what kind of camcorder you choose, you can enhance your shooting experience with some important accessories. Information on which ones might be right for you are covered in our camcorder accessories article. Also, if you're curious about how to watch, share, or edit your footage, check out our article on how to enjoy your footage.